A/N:

Goodness…This took longer than expected. Please enjoy. ^_^

Pairing(s): Sephiroth x Cloud with hints of one sided Cloud x Tifa

Word Count: 8,711

Disclaimer: Nope. I still own nothing but the plotline.

Letting Go

By Catsitta

.x.

"That's when she said,"I don't hate you boy, I just want to save you boy, while there's still something left to save."" Savior by Rise Against

.2.

Cloud had no idea how exactly it happened.

But it did.

After the blond had calmed down enough, Sephiroth left the Dark Room, the promise of his return heavy in the air. And then, the blond found his life taking a tailspin in the most bizarre direction. One moment he was lying in bed, staring aimlessly into the pitch black void of his room (there was some kind of sensory device that controlled the light), and the next, he was being led through the halls of ShinRa at Sephiroth's heels.

He learned in a brief exchange that the General had been attempting to keep incognito in his association to Cloud. Thus the uniform and the cap. After all, there were few people as recognizable as the One-Winged Angel. His appearance was starkly alien in contrast to even a normal SOLDIER, with his cascade of silver hair, high arched bangs and feline, mako-green eyes. And he could not carry his chosen weapon with him while in disguise because Masamune was as distinct as her master, with a curved blade nearly seven feet in length.

The very fact that he was walking through the halls of ShinRa incorporated was still disturbing to Cloud.

Very disturbing.

Cloud shuddered in revulsion as memories snaked into his conscious mind, threatening to overwhelm him.

"Cloud."

The blond froze and peered up at the General. It still unsettled him to hear that voice. That deep, velvety baritone…Gah! Why did he keep thinking about that? "Yes?" he managed to rasp amidst his internal debate. Sephiroth's slight frown hinted at the fact that the man knew something was wrong. The man was too intelligent and too observant for his own good...

"You seem troubled," the General absently tucked a strand of hair behind his ear before adjusting his cap. "We are both in disguise, if your identity is the reason for concern." Mako-green eyes fluttered shut briefly as Sephiroth muttered something else under his breath. It was then that they reached an elevator. Judging by the number on the keycard Sephiroth pulled from his pocket he could go all the way up to the top of the building.

Fortunately, the number he pressed on the keypad was far from the top.

Then again, why were they getting in an elevator at all? The training facilities and barracks for the "regulars" and new recruits were in another building entirely. Only officers, Turks, businessmen and class ranked SOLDIERs lived, worked, or even breathed the air of the upper floors.

"Where are we going?" Cloud asked, unable to restrain the anxiety building in his mind from slipping into his tone. Then, the elevator began to move, jerking skywards in a manner that reminded the blond distinctly of the early days he spent with AVALANCHE, from the destruction of the reactors, to the fall of the Sector Seven Plate, to this building. These very elevators. His eyes darted towards the digital numbers above the door, and he watched at the red numbers flickered and flashed with every floor change. He could still remember all of the troubles he ran into in these things.

It proved to make him feel very claustrophobic and just a touch motion sick.

With a lot of self-control and a clear, mental reminder that those were memories, Cloud managed to ease his churning stomach. He was not about to be attacked in the elevator by monsters, SOLDIERs or Turks. Not with Sephiroth around…which proved to be an even more unsettling thought than the other three possibilities combined. He was in an elevator—a confined, enclosed space—with his arch enemy turned "rescuer". Cloud still believed the man could turn around and prove that this is all just a mind game he was playing, and then proceed to run him through with Masamune. Again.

Subconsciously, his hand trailed to his chest at the thought, right where Sephiroth stabbed him during the Nibelhiem Incident…and again during the "Advent", while they battled upon the roof, his remnant Kadaj acting as a vessel for Jenova's favored son.

After a few more seconds of silence, Sephiroth placed his hand on Cloud's shoulder, which was not a welcome gesture. The blond shifted away…only to be pulled back, harshly. The General's fingertips were biting deep into his skin, likely leaving bruises. Cloud knew it was too good to be true. He was going to kill him! He was going to!—the elevator door opened, revealing none other than Tseng.

The Turk's eyes raked over them as he entered, almost as if he were trying to peel away their disguises his eyes alone. Knowing him as he did, Cloud was certain the man had a good chance of doing just that. But instead of reacting in a manner that would signal his realizing that he was in the presence of both a General and an escaped patient, Tseng blinked and turned his back to them both as if neither of them were worth telling the time of day.

No wonder Sephiroth had acted in such a manner. Anyone whom entered the elevator had a chance of recognizing one of them and unveiling their identities, especially a Turk. Which meant that the man wanted him close—whether to protect him or to something else, he was slightly uncertain—but the only way Cloud was going to maintain his sanity was by giving him the benefit of the doubt. The blond breathed in deeply, calming himself, before composing his features into that of indifference.

Slowly, the numbers changed and the elevator crawled higher. Time seemed to drag on forever. Cloud closed his eyes, a recent memory echoing inside his thoughts.

Relax Cloud. I will keep you safe.

(Why?)

Because Cloud, I spent a lifetime wishing someone would so the same for me. I wanted, no…needed, someone to save me.

(I don't need….)

Don't fall into that mindset, Cloud. Everyone needs someone when they fall.

DING!

Opening his eyes, Cloud saw the elevator doors swish open and a nudge to his shoulder signaled that this was they were getting off. Keeping his eyes on the floor, the swordsman shuffled past Tseng, praying to Gaia that the helmet crammed on his head hid his identity well enough. Even if he was not happy with his current situation, having the Turks pounce on him while he was still vulnerable to being abducted, was the last thing Cloud wanted. It would be a good way of turning his dream (or reality, though he had his fingers crossed in hopes that this was a dream) into a true nightmare.

Soon they were both in the halls and the door shut, shutting the Turk away yet again.

At that point, both he and the silver General let out a sigh of relief.

"I apologize for my secrecy, Cloud. Things will be made clear soon." Sephiroth said, before taking the lead and guiding Cloud through the stark-white hallway. Agitated, the blond glanced up at the fluorescent lights above and at the uniform, numbered doors lining the walls. By his best guess, he was on a residential floor. But why? For another minute, they walked in silence, before Sephiroth held out his arm, signaling Cloud to stop.

Room 73.

The General rapped his knuckles against the door, before once again settling a hand on Cloud's shoulder.

"Will you stop that?" he found himself hissing at Sephiroth, but the SOLDIER had the gall to merely tilt his head to the left and not even pretend to be chastised. Cloud tried to shrug the offending appendage away, but the older man's grip was firm. Creep. Psychopathic creep. Why was he trusting the man in the least? If he were smart, he would take the opportunity to smash his rival's face and run. Lobbing Sephiroth in the face might just wake Cloud up…if not, it'd make him feel a little better. Especially if he managed to leave a mark, even if for just a second or two.

Mako tended to heal bruises rather quickly.

Suddenly, the door swung open wide revealing….an utter stranger.

"Hello," the teenager greeted (he could not be older than eighteen), a knowing smile on his face. Who was this guy? He was unremarkable in most ways, with an average face, curly dark-blond hair, and mako-blue eyes. He wasn't particular broad, stocky, skinny or even tall. And he wore a standard issue, purple Second Class uniform. In fact, the only notable thing about him was his smile—his teeth were obscenely white and the expression itself reminded him of a Turk ready to make someone's life an utter hell.

"SOLDIER Second Class Kunsel Delircy, " Sephiroth began (Wait, did he say Kunsel? The guy who never took off his helmet, ever?). "Meet SOLDIER Third Class Cloud Strife."

"Nice to meet you Cloud," Kunsel continued to grin and he held out his hand for Cloud to shake. "I've heard so much about you."

"From who?"

"Why Zack of course!" the SOLDIER reached out and grabbed Cloud's hand, before shaking it as if it had been willingly offered. "You're his backwater buddy…from Nibelhiem, right? You two bonded over the helicopter crash in Modeohiem. It's good you made it into SOLDIER. He needs his friends around him."

Zack…Cloud felt his blood run cold. Zack was alive? He was here? But what was wrong with him? The way Kunsel had said that last sentence it was as if his old friend were in some kind of trouble.

"Why?" it was all the blond could manage.

With a confused tilt to his head, Kunsel said,"Don't you know? His mentor Angeal Hewley is…no longer with us."

Flashes of memories not his own hit Cloud like a freight train. The part of him that was, and always would be Zack, recoiled at those words. He forcibly remembered each moment of abandonment and betrayal, the having to pick up his mentor's sword and strike down the man he idolized. The man whom ingrained into him that honor, respect and dreams were the most important virtues to uphold, not only as a SOLDIER, but as a man.

"Cloud? Cloud? Hey buddy, you're not looking too good."

"He's recovering from the enhancement process." Sephiroth offered none too helpfully. "I trust that you can handle Strife from here."

"Yeah, of course sir. I took care of Zack when he received his initial shots and when he underwent the mako shower a few weeks back."

"You have heard of his…tendencies, yes?"

"Hard not for someone with my sources not to hear about Cloud's antics. Heard he made a real impression on the hospital staff."

"Take care that those "antics" are discontinued."

"He seems sane enough, sir. I don't think I have to worry about the kid knifing me in my sleep or jumping out of the window." Kunsel chuckled as he wrapped his arms around Cloud's torso, lifting the smaller male with ease. Cloud, very nauseated by the influx of information, permitted the manhandling. Standing had proven a difficult task. "Just in case he does something weird, I'll take care of it. As long as you push the paperwork to make this all legit, I'll make sure Cloudy here will be in tip-top, SOLDIER shape by the end of the week. I guarantee it!"

"You will keep him far away from Hojo and the Turks?"

"Of course!"

"Thank you for discretion…Kunsel."

"Thank you for trusting my intuition, Sephiroth, sir." he flashed his pearly whites. "This kid has too much potential to become one of Hojo's lab rats."

Cloud could feel the air temperature drop a few degrees and he recalled their earlier conversation. Sephiroth knew his past with Hojo, basing it upon Cloud's reactions to the scientist's name as well as the extreme mako enhancement displayed as compared to the standard dosage given. Apparently, this was his charity. He was saving Cloud from Hojo like some guardian angel by putting the blond in a situation that protected him. By placing Cloud in SOLDIER and into the care of a SOLDIER, he believed he could redeem whatever sins he was compensating for.

Awesome…

Not.

Soon, Sephiroth was walking away, leaving Cloud alone with Kunsel, Zack's friend and resident gossip. From what Cloud could filter from his hazy memories, Zack believed the SOLDIER should have been a Turk since the man was a massive snoop with more sources and hacking skills than Tseng.

"Now, let's get you settled in buddy."

Cloud, fatigued and sick to his stomach, acquiesced.

.x.

The next few weeks were a blur and with every passing day, he began to suspect that he wasn't dreaming.

Kunsel played doctor until Cloud literally smacked him upside the head and told him he was fine. At which point the SOLDIER made a game out of punching Cloud, usually in the arm or shoulder, and goading the swordsman until he hit back. Said something about it being a bonding experience that would build confidence and help Cloud adjust to SOLDIER life. Apparently, it was common for the upper classes of SOLDIER to smack around the lower classes, and would usually greet someone of lesser rank (or newly promoted rank) by punching them.

There was a reason why Cloud never hung around guys very often, before he joined the army or after he had "saved" the world. He never quite understood the reasoning behind the rough-and-tumble "manly-men" games in which the strongest, and usually stupidest, one wins. But, Kunsel never let Cloud back out of meeting new people and literally threw him to the wolves on a few occasions. He'd say it was a sink or swim situation, but he barely felt the friendly blows the men landed on him and he knew that they felt the bruises he left in return for the next week. So, it all evened out after a while.

Also, while he was socializing Cloud, Kunsel began testing the blond's skills. It took a few hours for the swordsman to get reacquainted with a blade, given that this body of his, while strong, was smaller than he was used to and the sword in his hands was unfamiliar and poorly balanced. And it did not help he was growing, which meant that every so often, in the middle of training, Cloud would simply fall flat on his face like an idiot.

Kunsel would laugh. Then Cloud would jump to his feet and make him regret it. Which always surprised the Second, given that the blond was supposed to be a recently promoted, klutzy Cadet with a great amount of potential but little actual skill. However, he never said a word about Cloud's incredible strength or his newfound skill set. His being a blade master was none of his concern, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy having the Third lay him out.

Then came the missions.

At first he was terrified that someone on the administrative floor would report him. But Director Lazard merely handed him his mission report and went on with his business. Not even the Turks bothered him, which was unusual. The kid who was in a coma due to mako shots, suddenly wakes up and attacks the guards, going as far as to almost kill an officer, ends up in the Dark Room, then mysteriously disappears before popping up as a registered SOLDIER—should have sent alarm bells in their heads. They should have long since drug him kicking-and-screaming into questioning. But no…

Eventually he calmed down, and took each given mission with a nod and a smile.

Not that the entire path was waved with roses, although it might have been had Cloud not the paranoid freak that he was. Everything was going too well. Life was too perfect. People kept looking away too often. It made him nervous, and a nervous Cloud was one that did things he shouldn't if he wanted to preserve what remained of his SOLDIER veneer.

He SHOULD keep his head down and play it safe. He SHOULD accept this new life of his without question. He SHOULD become a perfect, little mindless drone. Instead, Cloud began to plot and plan his escape. He would play along with ShinRa's whims for a little while longer, then, he would get the hell out. Despite this being the dream of his youth, living it with his foresight was an utter nightmare. Each moment of good was quickly outweighed by all of the terrible things he knew were soon to come.

Thus, as his first month as a SOLDIER drew to a close, Cloud gathered his belongings, ready to leave the company and never look back. He couldn't live the lie any longer. This dream—this new reality—was too much for him handle whilst standing idly by, doing nothing. He had to escape…

"Cloud? What are you doing?"

The blond pulled his prepared pack over one shoulder and lifted his sword with the other,"I'm leaving, Kunsel."

"You can't."

"Try to stop me," Cloud dared.

Kunsel sighed and leaned against the doorframe,"Cloud. What happened?"

"Nothing."

"Cloud, I'm not an idiot." He was quite the opposite. "I know that something happened to you between the SOLDIER exam and your waking up in the hospital. I've read your psychological file. I've trained with you. I know you. And you are not the same kid that stumbled through the exams a month ago." Kunsel crossed his arms, his face serious. "Something happened, Cloud, something big. Something so big that Sephiroth put his reputation on the line to keep it a secret and to protect you from said secret."

"You wouldn't understand."

"No. I wouldn't. But I know someone who does and he's on the way now."

"What!"

Kunsel had the gall to smirk,"Subtle you are not, Cloud. I've known you've been up to something for a week."

No argument ensued. Neither of them needed to speak to realize that this was a lost battle on Cloud's part. But the blond did not drop his belongings, not even when Sephiroth filled the doorway, confusion on that beautiful face of his. For a man that was supposed to be an elusive mystery, an untouchable idol, he seemed rather…involved. Those eyes that Cloud was so used to being filled with ice and cruelty were open, warm and pitying. It reminded the blond of how one might observe an abused puppy that refused to lick his new owner's hand.

He hated it. He did not want pity. He did not need it. He wanted his old, miserable life back! At least then he knew for certain what to expect around the corner and his biggest concerns revolved around whether or not he would actually manage to get intoxicated. Why did he have to be a SOLDIER? Why did his childhood dreams have to come back and haunt him!

Sephiroth said nothing as he approached, and at some point Kunsel disappeared. But Cloud did not care. He could handle Sephiroth. He had done it before….He…Two arms were wrapped around his shoulders, stealing away both Cloud's thoughts and his breath. Was the One-Winged Angel hugging him? Oh Gaia! He could fucking HEAR Jenova screeching for reunion. Her cells begged for the union of her chosen son and his clone…his imperfect copy.

The silver-haired swordsman did not seem to notice, but Cloud wanted to scream. He did not want to deal with this. After all of those years of being free of the bitch, she was back. Why did she have to be back?

"Cloud."

"Let go of me."

"Stop struggling, it is alright. You are safe. I will protect you."

Those eyes. Those terrible eyes. They were too close. They burned too green. They were too…human.

Cloud shuddered. This man was not the same that he struck down time and time again. This man was vibrant, alive, full of dreams and passion. This was a piece of the man that lied within the cold heart of the monster. And he was willingly showing it Cloud. He was laying himself open, vulnerable.

"Why do you trust me?" he found himself asking, his tone bitter.

Sephiroth pressed closer, his silver bangs brushing against Cloud's face,"I told you. I want to help, and to do that, I need you to trust me…to know that you can fall and I will catch you."

"I'm a stranger. You know nothing about me."

A small, sad smile crept upon his lips,"I feel that I know you, Cloud. From somewhere. Because I see in you what I see in myself." The way he said those words were more than slightly unsettling. It was downright creepy. Cloud would have preferred it if the silver General ignored him and acted as if he were some insignificant peon.

That, and did he even know what personal space was? Sephiroth was way too close for comfort. "Could you just…back off? Leave me alone." Cloud pushed forcefully against the silver SOLDIER's chest, employing his enhancements instinctively. Mako burned hot and brief in his blood. Unfortunately, with his proximity to Sephiroth, his Jenova cells cried out for reunion yet again. This had not been a problem a month ago. In fact, Cloud had long since come to believe the alien cells to be dormant due to Aerith's healing rain. Great Gospel cleansed everyone, including him, of Geostigma…Jenova's taint in the Lifestream. Apparently it could not purge the depths of his body from the curse.

Gritting his teeth, the blond ignored the call. It had been bothering him ever since Sephiroth walked in the room…but the intensity was overwhelming when his cells were burning with mako and adrenaline. It was unbelievably tempting to succumb to her siren song and melt into his rival's arms. After all, her son was so beautiful, and had been so kind…and his body was so close, so warm. Those perfect lips so near…

Gaia! Cloud snapped into reality just a second soon enough. His traitorous body was unconsciously leaning into Sephiroth's touch, and he knew for a fact he must have given the man a doe-eyed look as his thoughts were muddled with nonsense. The silver-haired swordsman was staring at him with a particularly puzzled expression on his face…his countenance dangerously closer to Cloud's than it had been a split second earlier. They were close enough to kiss should one of them lean forwards a hair. But neither dared. However, their breath intermingled for a few heartbeats, before Cloud fully regained himself and gave Sephiroth another shove. This time, he succeeded in pushing the man away.

"Leave me alone," he said, though he heard the hollowness of his tone. So much like a troubled boy, Cloud sounded, and it irked him to no end. By Gaia, he wanted a drink. He wanted to drown out his misery…his confusion. He wanted to calm his frayed nerves and fill the stark emptiness that was growing in his heart. Sephiroth. Jenova. SOLDIER. It was simply too much for the Planet's Savior to handle, again.

A hesitant, gloved hand came to rest on his face.

Cloud did not have the energy to scowl or rip himself away. The post-mako burn leaving him woozy and fatigued.

"A friend of mine once told me that touch can heal someone that is broken, just as easily as that same touch can cause the brokenness." Sephiroth began. "I called the boy a fool. Yet, as I reflect, I can see the wisdom of his words." He allowed the hand to slide away and rest on Cloud's shoulder. "You loathe touch. You fear it. You were broken and you believe that you cannot be repaired."

"You know nothing about me."

"I know enough, Cloud. For we are the same."

"I'm not your redemption," the blond found himself saying bitterly.

"No. You're not. You're my savior—"

"What?" Cloud started.

"—for you have given me purpose again."

Startled by Sephiroth's implications and his bizarre behavior, the blond shook his head and backed away. Those eyes. Those too human, too green eyes. They were earnest, bright with hope and understanding. They were not the cold, calculating eyes he recognized. They were not dead of remorse or other emotion. They were different, frightening. And those words…the way they were spoken, what they meant.

"Cloud."

Turning, Cloud ran, his pack sliding from his shoulder onto the floor. His only thoughts that of escape. He knew he was fast. But Sephiroth proved faster. Just as he reached the middle of the apartment's living area—where Kunsel sat dozing on the couch, one leg crooked and resting on the back, the opposite arm dangling above the floor—Sephiroth rounded him and looped one arm about Cloud's waist.

He wanted to pound his fists against the larger male's back and shoulders. He wanted to kick, yell and cry. He wanted to throw an absolute fit. But he didn't. All of his pent up emotions swirled and collapsed upon each other, rendering Cloud utterly numb. Thus, he went limp and drew in shallow, uneven breaths.

"Cloud?" it was Kunsel. "Geesh, kid, you look awful. C'mon. Let's get you to bed."

A second set of arms wrapped around him, though the first seemed reluctant to release their hold. For a short time, he found himself ensconced in warmth, two bodies, each familiar. Kunsel in front of him, new and predictable. Sephiroth behind him, old but unsettling.

"He is still unwell," Sephiroth murmured, at last relinquishing his hold.

"I've done what I could, sir. He seems alright most of the time, but his actions make no sense to me."

"He fears me."

"You have quite the reputation, sir. Anyone outside of SOLDIER would believe you a heartless machine. Even those within the program view you as untouchable…at least, until you pull the proverbial stick out of your ass and grace us commoners with your presence."

"I have shown him the truth. What am I doing wrong for him to act as he does?"

Kunsel knelt and gathered Cloud into his arms, the bend of one elbow beneath the blond's knees. "I thought you'd know, sir. After all, it's you who put everything on the line for the kid. It's you who placed Cloud into SOLDIER. It's you who seems attached to him at the hip."

The silver General shook his head in an impression of defeat.

It was then that Cloud closed his eyes, wishing away this twisted new reality.

.x.

After the incident with Sephiroth, Cloud became subdued. Quiet. He reverted to his usual self and encased his chaotic emotions within an impenetrable shell. Escape from ShinRa suddenly lost its appeal. As did remaining with SOLDIER. All he could think about was a certain silver SOLDIER, his thoughts shifting between good and bad. After a while, everything became muddled. Old memories and new collided and conflicted, throwing the blond through rigorous flashbacks and debilitating nightmares.

Every moment of childhood admiration was painted red with adult horror and hate. He remembered the ignorant longing of his young heart, how he believed himself in love with his flawless idol. He recalled each time Masamune pierced his chest, steel caressing the wildly throbbing organ within. He could taste blood in his mouth. The halls around him were shadowed and wickedly bent.

He couldn't take it!

It was the middle of the day, and ShinRa incorporated was bustling. But Cloud was alone, despite the crowd, and despite his best efforts, he fell to his knees, fingers curled in his hair.

"Woah there, little buddy." A friendly smile entered his line of sight. "What's wrong?"

"Zack?" Cloud croaked.

Another smile.

For some reason. All thoughts of Sephiroth fled his mind.

.x.

Life proved more bearable with Zack in it. He chattered endlessly, usually about girls and working out, and it filled the dreadful silence. All of the bad things that haunted the blond seemed outshined by the raven-haired First Class' inner light. It soothed him in the same way that Sephiroth made his hair stand up on end. And it was nice…no, more than that, it was wonderful!

After recovering from the initial shock of his dead friend greeting him in a hallway, very much alive, a pure joy filled Cloud that he hadn't felt since he first joined SOLDIER as a shy, fourteen year old recruit. In fact, he was so happy, the swordsman blissfully allowed the following months to pass right under his nose. Nibelhiem did not even cross his mind until over a year later, shortly after his sixteenth birthday, when Lazard called him and Zack into his office, a mission in hand.

By this time, Cloud had been promoted to Second, and he was well used to being called to duty. But now…as he listened to the Director drone on about the details, he felt an icy chill creep into his very bones. A chill that had not visited him since he last saw Sephiroth. Speaking of whom…

The man stood at the corner of the room, his eyes hooded with boredom. They had not spoken much since that day he had stopped Cloud from abandoning ShinRa, and while it had been a comfort to not deal with the overbearing presence of the man, the blond suspected that their business was far from settled. There were times where he could hear Jenova whispering, her siren song enchanting, signaling that Sephiroth was all too near.

What was strange about this phenomena, of hearing the alien speak to him and his very cells unconsciously routing him towards her chosen son, was not experiencing it. No, it was the fact that Sephiroth seemed utterly unaware and unaffected. Perhaps it was because he was the source of the draw, rather than a satellite being pulled into the mother body. But that would likely change should he enter Nibelhiem. The cells of Jenova's vassal inherently wished to bond with her fossilized corpse, but without telekinetic influence from the body (which had a proximity), Sephiroth was without reason to "reunite". His very active cells were ignorant of Jenova's will, content with their current form…which was good. It meant that the SOLDIER did not hear "Mother" in his head and want to destroy the world.

However, the question of why Cloud's cells awakened was an unanswered question…Maybe, they had always been awake. Aware. After all, he had sensed Sephiroth during his stay in the Dark Room. At first he had dismissed his awareness as his familiarity with the silver General's stride and form, but now…now he was thinking that maybe, they had been drawn together by their cells. Sephiroth's inexplicable behavior and attitude was a little more fathomable if that were true. On an unconscious level, the silver-haired warrior wouldn't view Cloud as a threat, no, he would view him as a brother. Someone like him. Someone that needed him. Someone that was innately apart of him.

Someone he could touch.

Gaia! That was why the man had been invading his personal space so much. The Reunion instinct was affecting him! His cells drew them close. They manipulated his thoughts. He would want to touch and hold predominantly due to the instinctive desire to unite. To bond. To become one.

Cloud shivered at this realization.

Trouble was lurking…and there was nothing he could do. Except do his damndest to keep Sephiroth out of Nibelhiem.

Thus as the meeting drew to a close, Cloud lingered behind, telling Zack to go ahead without him. The raven-haired SOLDIER grinned and waved, before trotting off to prepare for the mission, leaving the blond alone in the hallway. That is, until Sephiroth emerged, silent and regal.

"General Sephiroth," he began. "may I have a moment of your time? I need to speak with you, sir."

Slowly, the man drew to a stop and quirked his head almost imperceptibly to the left,"Why the formalities, Cloud?" A shiver crawled down the blond's spine. Sephiroth seemed to caress his name as he spoke, and it rattled him to no end to know that the man's voice still affected him so.

"…Apologies, Sephiroth." Cloud continued, attempting to ignore the way those eyes were watching him. In the hazy, artificial light, those mako-bright eyes seemed to gleam with predatory intent. "But my reason for formality is due to the fact that I have little idea of how to approach, what I am about to say next, in any other way without sounding ignorant or presumptuous."

"Hm. You know other words than: Leave me alone and Go away. I'm impressed by your progress, Cloud." A smirk, small and sly crept upon those perfect lips of his. How much like an angel he appeared. Unattainable, cold perfection…yet so real. Warm and close enough to reach out and touch…

Cloud blinked. His thoughts had betrayed him yet again.

"I…You mock me…" he cleared his throat. "But we digress. Sephiroth, you cannot go on this next mission. Actually, neither of us should." Jenova would likely attack Cloud if given half a chance. "The danger is too great."

"A reactor needs minor repair and some monsters need eliminating, where is this danger, for I see none?"

A pause.

"Do you trust me?"

"Despite your best efforts to make it not so…I do. I always have. We are alike Cloud. We need each other. And with that need comes a required amount of trust. A better question to be asked, Cloud, is do you trust me?"

He wanted to say no, but in an ironic way, Cloud did trust Sephiroth. He trusted him to be an unpredictable force of nature, which would as soon stab him through the back as he would wrap Cloud up in his arms. "Yes. I do trust you."

"Then why have you avoided me these past few months? I know two of your birthdays have passed, and neither occasion seemed to warrant your interest in my company. Instead, you clung to Zack as if his friendship were your lifeblood." Those eyes of his were narrow. His tone sharp. It took a moment to register, but Cloud swore that Sephiroth sounded jealous. "Avoidance does not bespeak of trust. And after everything I have done for you…my confusion should be easy to understand."

Cloud resisted the temptation to drop his gaze. The silver General loomed above him, dark and dangerous, emanating an ominous energy. Barely bridled emotions bubbled beneath the surface of that cool façade. Those too human eyes betray that fact. Why did Sephiroth have to act and look so human? Why? "It is difficult for me to explain," he confessed. "However, I will offer no apology. Zack is my friend and you—"

"—and I am your General."

"Yes. I both respect and trust you, Sephiroth."

"But you do not view me as a friend. I see."

Betrayal intermingled with jealousy his silky tone. Cloud wanted to smack himself for his idiocy. Sephiroth was still recovering from the abandonment of his only friends in the world, was contemplating defecting from ShinRa and was in a fragile state of mentality. Now was not the time to inform the man that his attentions were unwanted and his efforts meaningless, especially if he was to gain any ground in convincing the SOLDIER to stay away from the mission.

"Sephiroth…" it came out as nothing more than a whisper.

With an air of nonchalance, the swordsman retorted, "Cloud."

"Gaia!" Cloud could not help the explosion of his temper or voice. This man was infuriating! Quite honestly he'd rather work with the insane man he was familiar with than the pouty child before him. "Can we just…I don't know. Start over? It's been difficult for me to adjust given the circumstances, and with you being so overprotective and…I just need you to listen to me."

"There is no need to step backwards in our conversation, Cloud." Sephiroth drew a few steps closer so as to place a hand on the blond's shoulder. For the first time he did not flinch or pull away. "I made assumptions. I imposed myself upon you. Do know, however, that I never regret my actions." He leaned forwards, again invading Cloud's personal space. "Even if you do not consider me a friend, I do not regret for a moment, rescuing you. Trusting you. Needing you." His pitch dropped to a dangerously sensual note,"Wanting you."

"Woah!" Cloud leapt back. "That was not where I was expecting this conversation to go."

Sephiroth's posture stiffened, "I apologize for my forwardness. It was entirely inappropriate."

After a moment, the blond managed to calm himself and look his one-time idol in the eyes,"Look, Sephiroth. I trust you. I'm grateful you rescued me and gave me a chance as a SOLDIER. Heck, I'm even grateful you stopped me from leaving the company. You gave me a chance to live out a dream of mine that I thought died a long time ago. I'm flattered you want to be friends. But—"

"—you wish us to be nothing more."

"Sephiroth, when did you get it in your head that—" his protests were cut off with a kiss.

It was dry and chaste. A brief touching of their lips. However, the silver-haired warrior lingered close, his every inch radiating a desire to repeat the gesture. Why was this happening? Cloud had seen nothing beyond platonic affection from Sephiroth before this moment.

Panicked, the blond shuffled backwards,"You just apologized for making an inappropriate advance! What exactly do you consider that?"

"Taking a chance," he replied softly. "Tell me Cloud. Is it my reputation that drives you away? Our difference in age or rank? Do you think me a predator, a pedophile, for wanting you as I do?"

"Sephiroth, look, I'm flattered. But I like girls. I'm straight."

"You're lying."

Cloud nearly choked on that particular accusation,"Excuse me?"

"You're lying."

"Okay…I'm seriously trying to figure out where we went off track. This conversation started with me asking you to decline the Nibelhiem mission. How did we get to my sexual orientation?"

Another pause, longer than the first, ensued. Sephiroth pursed his lips and studied Cloud, clearly wanting this conversation to be brought to a close. His shoulders, so broad and strong, were bowed forwards a degree, as if resigned. However, he was not the kind of man that accepted defeat. He was bred for competition and perseverance, no task too difficult to complete or conquer. If he wanted something, no one would change that desire nor would they be able to convince him against its pursuit.

This fact made things slightly more difficult and great deal more awkward.

"A favor for a favor," Sephiroth began.

"Pardon?"

"A favor for a favor. I will decline the Nibelhiem mission, without further questioning, if you will grant a favor in return. No questions asked."

"You'd be willing to refuse the mission…just like that?"

The silver-haired SOLDIER inclined his head affirmatively.

Cloud frowned,"What favor do you have in mind for in return?"

A small, wry smile worked its way onto Sephiroth's lips,"No questions asked, Cloud. You must trust my intentions as I have trusted yours."

A brief silence and a handshake later, the destiny of a one-winged angel changed course.

.x.

Alone, Zack tended to the Nibelhiem mission. He called often, informing Cloud how horrible he was for refusing the mission and how boring the mountain village was turning out to be. Aside from the excess of snow, the SOLDIER did not seem to have much to complain about. Even the repair of the reactor went smoothly, almost as if there were nothing strange to be found…no monsters kept secured in the dark.

This proved a great comfort to Cloud, whom was still uncertain how to handle the Jenova situation or the latest development with Sephiroth. At least the alien wouldn't get her nasty tentacles on the General any time soon…but that left him dealing with the uncomfortable fact that warrior wanted more than to be friends. He wanted more than to find his redemption or a new chance for hope…And likely, it was the J-cells messing with his mind.

Poor fool. Poor, insane fool.

At least he's an attractive fool; the thought sprang from nowhere as Cloud ended his latest call with Zack and laid down the PHS on the arm of Kunsel's couch. Which, proved startling, and led to the blond smacking himself upside the head. Good thing his fellow Second Class SOLDIER wasn't home. His roommate, while a likeable person, was too pry for anyone's sanity. Kunsel pestered and prowled, shooting intimate questions left and right under a paper-thin guise. If it weren't for that helmet he insisted on wearing (even while inside his own quarters a majority of the time), Cloud would have long ago bashed the man's head in out of annoyance.

With a heavy sigh, he slumped against the cushions and closed his eyes.

Cloud.

(Something wrong, Tifa?)

The brunette approached hesitantly, her sable eyes tinted wine by the sunset's fiery glow. It had been a few months since Meteor, and this was the first time they'd spoken in weeks. With Tifa arranging the construction of a new bar in Edge, and Cloud out on the road, coping with his losses and identity crisis, there had been little time to simply sit and talk.

You've been avoiding me, Cloud.

(I've been busy. You know I would never avoid you, Tifa.)

I know you better than that, she told him. The shadows danced across the smooth planes of her face. You run away to cope. If you're not running from your problems, you're wallowing in them. Don't you understand…I worry about you, Cloud. I miss you. I wonder every night if you're going to come home.

(Home. Is there one for us anymore?)

Yes, there is. Stay, Cloud. Stay in Edge and we'll make things work.

(I can't.)

You can't or you won't?

(Tifa…)

Stop pretending like you don't understand! she cried, balling her fists. A small gust of wind caught the ends of her hair, sweeping them to-and-fro. Cloud, I told you before we fought Sephiroth. I love you. I can't imagine my life without you.

(I'm not the man you want me to be…)

You're not a monster! You can love. Tifa reached forwards and gripped the lapels of Cloud's jacket, before yanking him into a forceful kiss. She then pulled away, trembling, tears glistening in eyes that had been dry for years. You still love HER, don't you? That's why you ignore me.

(That's not it…TIfa!)

But she was already gone, running away as fast as she could. Absently, he touched his lips, a strange conflict storming within. Perhaps it was a result of stress or some twisted syndrome that only his particular situation could create, but it was not a linger love for Aerith that kept him from loving Tifa. It was a denial for a deeper love. A secret, forbidden love that he had long ago buried deep until he'd all but forgotten the still burning embers.

It sickened him, his own disgusting obsession.

(I'm a monster. Monsters can't fall in love with beautiful women. They can only lust…and that lust is held for their own kind. Other monsters. Other twisted creations that feel no love. Because only they understand.)

Cloud opened his eyes, his entirety aching from the old memory. How they haunted his sleep as of late. Gingerly, he touched his lips, just as he did in the dream. The kiss Tifa gave him had left him feeling hollow. As had the kiss Aerith had placed upon him in the Temple of the Ancients. During his youth, he had yearned for beautiful girls to kiss him. However, the two that offered him their hearts, while stunning, never affected him. Never broke through the pain and disillusion.

It was agonizing to admit, but Sephiroth's chaste yet impulsive kiss, his declaration of affection, it rattled the blond. After a week, he still felt those perfect lips upon his own. Old adoration seeped to the surface, hot and overwhelming, and like gasoline fueled the fire set by the meager match of new desire. The silver-haired swordsman was his idol growing up, and as an adult, he became a hated enemy. But now, as he lingered between childhood and adulthood, Cloud realized that neither image of the man held true any longer.

He did not adore Sephiroth as if he were a god. Nor did he despise the man. He was wary of his one-time rival, even a touch frightened. But he respected Sephiroth. He trusted him. And, Cloud was embarrassed to admit, he felt something more. He cared for him. He wanted to know more about the man. He wanted to protect the General from all the evils that made him into a monster, because the human side of him was too precious a thing to lose. The man deserved a chance to be happy and to be loved.

And if that were true, didn't that mean Cloud deserved his happiness to?

As he leapt to his feet and left the room, a flash of insight crashed into him like a thunderclap.

"I love him," he whispered. "I think I always have…Gaia! I'm crazy."

Old memories intermingled with new as he ran down the hallways of ShinRa incorporated. He thought of all the things that went wrong, and all of the guilt that weighed heavy on his heart. There were so many things that he blamed himself for that were not his fault at all. And now, he had a chance to fix everything. He could free Vincent. Kill Hojo. Stop Deepground. Prevent the Sector Seven Plate from falling. After all, he'd recently just stopped the Nibelhiem incident, essentially adverting Crisis. Sephiroth was sane. His hometown was intact. Tifa was safe. Aerith and Zack had a chance of actually living and starting a life together…Oh, the possibilities! How had he not seen them before?

Filled with happiness, Cloud reveled in the glow of this second chance, thanking anyone who could have been involved.

He was still crazy for falling in love with Sephiroth. He was even crazier for considering giving the man a chance with his heart. But Cloud refused to lose this opportunity at making everything right, no matter how weird the circumstances.

A few minutes and an elevator ride later found the blond outside of the silver-haired General's office.

Just as the blond lifted his hand to knock, the door swung open, revealing the room's sole occupant. Those too human, too green eyes stared down at him and after a pause, the man tilted his head to the left.

"I wanted to say thank you," Cloud began.

Sephiroth blinked,"For what?"

"For everything. For rescuing me. For putting me in SOLDIER. For giving me a chance at my dreams. For trusting me…I can never thank you enough for trusting me."

"Does this mean you forgive me for my advances?"

Cloud answered with a kiss.

.x.

A crazy thing happened when Cloud stopped believing himself in a nightmare and stopped fighting the flow of events. His dreams came true. All of them.

ShinRa fell. A new government taking its place. The usage of mako soon became discontinued as new sources of energy were researched and employed. All of his friends found their happy endings…even Cid, whose desire to be the first man in space became a reality just last week. At his side throughout thick-and-thin, stood Sephiroth. Trust grew into a mutual love that would forever stand the test of time.

Or so Cloud would like to believe.

As he navigated the halls of Neo Midar Electric, his thoughts swimming with how to best dispose of Jenova's corpse, the swordsman found himself pulled backwards into a broad chest. The blond grinned. "Hello Sephiroth."

"Cloud," how he had come to love the way Sephiroth said his name.

Like he did every day, the silver-haired warrior dipped his head and caught his lover's lips with his own. Flooded with sensation, Cloud reveled in the gesture, proud to have captured the heart of this loving, wonderful man. As they parted, catching their breath, Sephiroth smiled. Except, this wasn't his typical smile. No, it possessed a sinister edge that startled Cloud, almost causing him to leap away.

Next thing he knew, he was being pressed against a wall, the silver-haired warrior looming above him. Soft lips skimmed the shell of his ear, calloused hands traced familiar paths with their caress, causing Cloud to relax. It was a game. His lover occasionally enjoyed to play. Thus he did not fight as those sensual lips left his ear to collide with his own.

It was rough, demanding and wonderful. He would never stop desiring this man…never. He would hold onto him forever.

"Cloud," whispered Sephiroth as they parted. "there is something you need to know…" he leaned close, effectively trapping the blond against the wall.

"Hm?"

"…it's all a dream."

And with that, the world crumbled to pieces, crashing all around the swordsman like broken shards of glass. Cloud stared, uncomprehending. Soon, only he and Sephiroth remained against a backdrop of green.

…a favor for a favor, Cloud. I would like to make good on your side of the bargain.

(What? What's going on?)

Let everything go, Cloud. Your doubt. Your guilt. Your anger. Your hate. Your grief. Your past. Your memories. You identity. Leave it all behind and forge a new beginning.

(Sephiroth?)

The silver-haired SOLDIER took a step backwards into the wide expanse of green. Let go of everything. Even me.

Cloud opened his eyes.

He lay on plaid sheets. All around him were little knickknacks and photographs. And sunshine poured in through the window, illuminating the room. As the swordsman sat up, he noted that he was fully clothed and that at some point, someone (likely Tifa) had pulled a blanket over him. Slowly, he took in his surroundings and absently scratched his head, banishing the last remnants of the previous evening's ache.

Downstairs, Cloud could hear the commotion of a new day. Tifa was chattering to Denzel as she moved about the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Then, Barret's daughter, Marlene, entered the mix with a squeal of laughter.

"It was all…a dream."

He felt a tightening in his chest, cold and consuming. Of course it was a dream. Time travel was not real, and even if it were, who in their right mind would send Cloud of all people back to fix things? He was a total wreck! He would just screw things up like the first time…He…

He was living in the past.

He needed to let go of his guilt and move on.

But it was hard. So freaking hard! He couldn't do it! He…he…

"Cloud! Breakfast." Tifa shouted up the stairs. Carefully, he untangled himself from the sheets and opened the bedroom door, to find the brunette staring up at him from the lower floor. She smiled. "Did you sleep well?"

When will you grow up and take responsibility, Cloud? When will YOU let go of your nightmares? The past is the past, when will YOU stop living in it?

Let everything go, Cloud. Your doubt. Your guilt. Your anger. Your hate. Your grief. Your past. Your memories. You identity. Leave it all behind and forge a new beginning.

Everyone needs someone when they fall.

I need you, Cloud.

Raking his fingers through his hair, the blue-eyed swordsman offered a small smile and a nod,"Yeah. I slept great. Maybe I'll take up you're offer to stay here more often."

Something bright and hopeful glittered in those sable eyes,"I'd like that."

"And Tifa…"

"Yes?"

Cloud took a few steps down the stairs,"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For helping me realize something very important. I'm living in the past and I need to let go." He thought for a moment about his childhood dreams and his realized love of the man he declared an enemy. No longer did the fury burn. No longer did he feel hate. If only things had been different…but they weren't. It was time to make the best of what he had and carve out a future worth living. "But I can't do it alone."

Tifa reached up towards him and Cloud returned her gesture, catching those scarred fingers between his own.

"I need your help, Tifa. I need your help to become a better man."

fin

A/N: (The end. I hope you all enjoyed the story, and yes, I realize I made Sephiroth a touch OOC, and I'll admit I took liberties with his personality with my sole excuse being that this was an extended dream sequence. Anywho~

Here's my prompt (paraphrased):

Cloud and Tifa have a fight at Tifa's bar because he refuses to let go of the past. She offers him to stay in his room above the bar, and for once, he accepts. He passes out, and next thing he knows, he's in the past. After getting over his shock, Cloud decides to fix things and make everything right. He makes it into SOLDIER, befriends Zack, rescues Vincent, kills Hojo, saves Sephiroth…etc. Along the way, he addresses his childhood crush on Sephiroth, falls in love, etc. and eventually gets the man of his dreams. One day, after everything is said and done, Sephiroth pulls Cloud into his office for a make-out session, but interrupts everything by saying,"I need to tell you something, Cloud…It's all a dream." Cloud wakes up and hears Tifa with the kids downstairs. He then realizes that he had been living in the past, and that Tifa had been right all along, and decides its time to let go.

Phew. So yeah~

Reviews are lovely. ^_^)